The European Union yesterday scheduled talks with Russia to press for a speedy resolution of a dispute with Ukraine that has hit gas supplies to countries in eastern and southern Europe facing freezing temperatures.
Russian gas monopoly Gazprom cut off gas supplies to Ukraine on Jan 1 in a dispute over debts and pricing that shows no sign of ending.
The move has worried European countries, which get one fifth of their gas through pipelines that cross Ukraine.
An EU fact-finding mission will meet Gazprom officials today, although there was no immediate danger to EU consumers from the dispute, an EU Commission spokesman said.
The Commission said the meeting would be in a European capital but the venue had not been confirmed.
"Since we are the main market for Russian gas ... we have an obvious interest in applying pressure on these parties to reach as soon as possible an agreement which is definitive," Johannes Laitenberger said.
Disruptions to gas supplies that had already hit Turkey, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary spread to Croatia and Greece yesterday, energy firms said.
"We were informed today that we would receive only 4 million cubic meters of natural gas from Russia compared to our request for 6 million cubic meters, due to the dispute," an official at Greek gas operator DEPA said.
In the Czech Republic, holder of the EU's rotating presidency, gas supplies dropped at the weekend but were back to normal yesterday, the country's main supplier said.
Temperatures in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, were minus 5 C yesterday while in Hungary they were minus 3 C.
The gas row, which mirrors a dispute three years ago that disrupted supplies to Europe via Ukraine, threatens Russian ties with the West already strained by Moscow's war in Georgia in August.
The Kremlin has long opposed Ukraine's ambition to join NATO and some Western policymakers see parallels between the Georgian conflict and Russia's treatment of Ukraine.
Gazprom's chief executive, Alexei Miller, would meet Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin later yesterday for talks on the dispute, a government spokeswoman said.
The EU has also called an emergency meeting of envoys later yesterday in Brussels.
State-controlled Gazprom has blamed Ukraine for siphoning off or blocking deliveries of gas equivalent to one-sixth of Russia's total supplies to Europe. It said it was pumping additional volumes to make up for the shortfall.